Weekly Feature

2018-06-07 / Front Page

WS man takes top prize in Civic Innovation Challenge

Good Neighbor app provides free access to services via mobile phones

Dever Dever Mayor Byron Brown recently awarded the top prize in his inaugural Civic Innovation Challenge — Powered by AT&T, to the creators of Good Neighbor, a mobile phone-based app that gives residents easy access to key data on services provided by the City of Buffalo, Erie County and New York State, as well as local nonprofit organizations.

The Good Neighbor co-developers, Clark Dever of West Seneca and Jordan Walbesser, were awarded a $5,000 check for their grand prize-winning application.

“This app embodies what I had hoped would come out of this competition. Good Neighbor equalizes access to city information for all of our residents. It also offers translation for those who do not speak English,” Brown said.

According to the mayor, anyone with a cellphone and the app can find the nearest police station or firehouse, get details on city services in their neighborhood, and access other information.

Dever and Walbesser said they were proud their entry won top prize.

“Jordan and I were thrilled to participate in Mayor Brown’s Civic Innovation Challenge. We are excited to see how the city is democratizing its data, which enables projects like Good Neighbor to become a reality,” Dever said.

“We wanted to develop something that would improve civic access for our neighbors who have been historically under-served and marginalized. With the proceeds from this competition, we hope to expand Good Neighbor into a two-way platform for civic engagement, making it easier for every Buffalonian to be engaged in their government and communities,” Walbesser added.

The second place winner was Buffalo Recycle-A-Bowl, an app that encourages residents to boost their recycling rates through entertaining game dynamics. Participants join their virtual neighborhood team using city recycling data in a football-like, 16-week competition, with postseason playoff action, leading to the crowning of the Buffalo Recycle A-Bowl champion. Developer Christopher McDermott won $2,000 for his winning effort.

The third-place winner was Fire Hydrant Distance Check, an app that allows drivers to make sure they’ve parked at least 15 feet from any of Buffalo’s 8,000 fire hydrants, using their cellphone’s GPS. Developer Wesley Csendom earned $1,000 for his winning entry.

The mayor’s first Civic Innovation Challenge — Powered by AT&T — kicked off on March 1, calling on local computer scientists, coders, software developers, designers and tech students to come up with a creative solution to address social or civic issues impacting Buffalo residents. The Challenge was also designed to put a spotlight on the city’s recently-launched Open Data Buffalo portal, and to familiarize the tech community and the community-at-large about what the portal has to offer.

“This competition would not have been possible without the support of our partner, AT&T, which generously donated $8,000 in prize money for the Challenge. Not only did those funds attract the attention of the participants, it also led to the development of the three winning apps, which will be made available to city residents, and others who would like to use them,” the mayor said.

“The quality of the innovative solutions developed for this challenge is extremely impressive and serves as an example of the vibrancy and creativity of Western New York’s technology community,” said Marissa Shorenstein, president of Northeast Region AT&T.

“AT&T is proud to have collaborated with Mayor Brown to host this visionary innovation challenge, and we applaud the mayor and his administration for embracing how technology and data can be used to assist municipalities to address issues impacting their residents, similar to what AT&T provides every day through our Smart Cities solutions.”

One hundred developers signed up to participate in the Challenge. More than 40 of those participants took part in a check-in session in early April, which included an in-depth tour of the Open Data Buffalo portal. Sixteen completed app entries were reviewed by a five-member panel of judges, which included Brown, Shorenstein and Ulla Bak, president of Bak USA.

“It was a thrill to judge the entries to the Buffalo Civic Innovation Challenge,” Bak said. “I was impressed by the creative ways the competitors used the Open Data Buffalo portal to solve problems, both for citizens and for city employees. Technology is one driving force in Buffalo’s resurgence, and I’m excited by the possibilities.”

“Seeing what talented local technologists can do with the city’s open data has been a truly amazing experience. I’m hopeful that all contestants will continue to improve on their apps and encourage Buffalo’s civic tech community to continue to think of creative ways to use open data to improve the quality of life for all Buffalonians,” said Kirk McLean, the city’s Open Data Buffalo program manager.

The city’s Open Data Buffalo portal, which was launched in February, is the fruit of efforts which came out of its 2016 selection by Bloomberg Philanthropies to participate in its What Works Cities initiative. Andrew Nicklin, of Bloomberg Philanthropies, who served as a Challenge judge, complimented Buffalo’s Open Data progress.

“The Civic Innovation Challenge was a great way to kick off the launch of Open Data Buffalo, and I’m grateful to Mayor Brown and the Open Data team for inviting me to be a judge,” Nicklin said. “It was clear that the people who entered care about their communities, producing plenty of creative and helpful solutions. ... Now comes the hard part of improving the apps and sharing them more widely with your 250,000 fellow Buffalonians.”

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